Blights Out recognizes that "development" is a murky and mysterious process that operates above the heads and outside the purview of most local residents. For the last three years, we have generated dialogue, art, and action in an attempt to make the system of housing development and its after-effects transparent, accessible and accountable to local residents; that supports the movement for permanently affordable housing; and that challenges blight, displacement, and gentrification.
Our central goal is to purchase a blighted property and to transform it into a hub for the generation art, dialogue and action around the issues of blight, housing affordability and gentrification and in support of housing as a human right. For the past three years, we have "performed" the role of developer, immersing ourselves in the housing system in an attempt to learn how housing development works through an experiential, creative education method. We have worked to acquire a blighted property directly from home owners, person to person, without going through private auctions, because too often residents are not notified about their properties' impending adjudication, demolition or tax certificate sale.
This process of acquiring property has been fraught with the same confusion and corruption that ensnares housing in New Orleans like the equally ubiquitous kudzu that strangles blighted homes. While frustrating, this process has also been eye-opening and has provided significant insight into the reasons for our city's current affordable housing crisis. Our creative strategies, artwork, stories, and research will become accessible to the public via public performances and events, a People's Development Toolkit, a Living Glossary, system mapping, and a podcast, all of which are currently under development.
Blights Out unites a coalition of communities who have not ordinarily been in dialogue—artists and policy-makers, nationals and locals, natives and newcomers, young and old, and peoples of all races, economic stata, backgrounds, and professions. We are not reinventing the wheel—we recognize that we ARE the wheel; we function as the structural connective tissue between individuals and organizations across interest groups.
Blights Out is grounded in the principle of collective ownership and authorship. If are a Blights Out collaborator and would like your bio to be featured on our website, just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blights Out Collaborators
(in alpha order)
Imani Jacqueline Brown is a New Orleans native, activist, cultural organizer, Co-Founding Cultural Activist of Blights Out, and Director of Programs at Antenna, New Orleans (www.antenna.works). She is a member of Occupy Museums, an international artist/activist collective formed in 2011 during Occupy Wall Street to challenge and deconstruct the commodification of art and culture (www.occupymuseums.org). In 2014, Imani worked as Curatorial Associate and Manager of Publications for Prospect.3, New Orleans under the Artistic Direction of Franklin Sirmans. That same year, her paper "Performing Bare Life: Occupying the Liminality between Civilizations" was named best in stream at the 5th Annual Latin American and European Meeting on Organization Studies in Havana, Cuba. She received her BA in Visual Arts and Anthropology from Columbia University in the City of New York in 2010.
Mariama Eversley is the Embedded Historian at Blights Out where she researches property law, history, and conducts interviews. Currently, she is collaborating with Blights Out founder Imani Brown on the Living Glossary Project which offers expanded definitions of real estate terminology through oral history and historical context. Before arriving at Blights Out, Mariama graduated with honors from Wesleyan University in 2010 with a bachelors degree in Anthropology. She then spent a year as a fellow at the Orleans Public Defenders supporting clients unable to afford their bail, coordinated a sex worker diversion program in municipal court, and worked on the clemency application to free Bernard Noble. She continues to engage in work around mass incarceration through blogging, investigative research, and community organizing.
Steven Kennedy is the Principal and founder of REO, LLC and heads up the firm’s business development and strategic planning. In that capacity, he serves as advisor to non-profit organizations, real estate professionals, and community leaders. Steven is an urban planner who has worked on many different community development efforts throughout New Orleans. Mr. Kennedy is also the principal of a Community Development Entity (CDE) focused on redeveloping urban distressed communities throughout the New Orleans MSA. Steven has studied Sustainable Real Estate Development at Tulane University, and Urban and Regional Planning at the University of New Orleans focused on Housing and Economic Development.
Bryan C. Lee, Jr. is Founding Designer of Blights Out and is an Architectural Designer and Design Justice Advocate. He is the founder/Director of Colloqate Design, a nonprofit multidisciplinary design practice dedicated to expanding community access to design and creating spaces of racial, social and cultural equity. Lee most recently served as the Place + Civic Design Director for the Arts Council of New Orleans and prior to that at the 2014 AIA National Firm of the Year, Eskew+Dumez+Ripple (Architecture) in New Orleans. Bryan is the founding organizer of the Design Justice Platform and organized the Design As Protest National day of Action. Additionally, he has led two award winning architecture + design programs for high school students through the Arts Council (local) and the National Organization of Minority Architects (national), respectively. He serves on several boards; most notably as the Design Education Chair National NOMA board and on the National AIA Equity + the Future of Architecture Committee. He was selected as the 2014 NOMA member of the year, 2015 Next City Vanguard Fellow, 2015 International British American Project Fellow. In 2016, Bryan was selected to give a TED Talk and to Keynote at SXSW Eco on Design Justice.
Lisa Sigal is a Co-Founding Artist of Blights Out. Sigal paints on walls and makes forms that combine painting with architecture. Utilizing and expanding upon notions of space, she investigates how art can challenge set ideas about property, containment, and freedom. She received a Guggenheim Grant and Creative Capital grant, which changed the course of her work, inspiring her to produce public art projects on a larger scale and to combine resources with other artists and activists. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at the 2008 Whitney Biennial, The New Museum, MoMa /PS1, The Sculpture Center, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, The Albright Knox, the Brooklyn Museum, the Essl Museum in Vienna, LAXART space in Los Angeles, and Samson Projects in Boston, among other venues. Most recent exhibits in 2014 include, Prospect.3: Notes for Now, an international contemporary arts biennial in New Orleans; WALDEN, DeCordova Museum in Boston; Crossing Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum; Inside Out Art Museum, Beijing, China; and an upcoming solo show at The Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh. Sigal is a 2014-2015 artist-in-residence at the Marie Walsh Sharpe Studio Program in New City York. In addition to her art practice, Sigal is the curator of Open Sessions, a program of The Drawing Center in New York City for artists that incubates new ideas about drawing through exhibitions and public programs. Sigal lives and works in Brooklyn.
Sue Press was born, raised, and has lived her life in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans. The oldest of 12 children (6 boys, 6 girls), Press has dedicated her life to helping children to reach their full potential through the guiding values of family, community, support, and participation in our cultural traditions. Her lifelong dream to become a social worker was fulfilled through her founding, in 1998, of the Ole & Nu Style Fellas Social Aid and Pleasure Club, which aims to unite residents across ages. Members, along with family and friends, raise money to cover the costs for disadvantaged children in the neighborhood to participate in their annual parade. The Club hosts an annual drive for book sacks filled with school supplies, in addition to a coat giveaway and sponsorship of young ladies to partake (debut) in their annual King and Queen Ball. Club members serve as mentors and work with children to learn about and participate in these important African-American neighborhood traditions and learn to value their own individual roles in the community and neighborhood. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated Press’ home and community. She was committed to rebuilding her home because she saw the restoration of the house and its architectural character as one small part of restoring the unique character of New Orleans. Press has worked at LSU Health and Science Center for the past 30 years as an Administrator Supervisor in the Medical Record Service Department.
Rontherin Ratliff is the 2016-17 Artist Fellow for Blights Out. Ratliff is known for creating textural assemblages and sculptural work that examines contemporary society. In 2009, Works and Process at the Guggenheim commissioned the set installation for the production of Peter and the Wolf of which Ratliff lead the artistic direction and co-creation. In 2010 Ratliff exhibited at Diverse Works in Houston Texas and in 2012 the Arts Council of New Orleans commissioned a site-specific public art installation for The Norman Mayer Branch Library. Ratliff had exhibited at the New Orleans Museum of Modern Art LA, Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, Rebecca Randall Bryan Gallery SC, Carroll Gallery at Tulane University and other galleries in conjunction with Prospect New Orleans. Ratliff participated in the Artist In Residence Program at the Joan Mitchell Center New Orleans in 2014 and he was selected as one of the collaborating artists for the nationally acclaimed street art installation ExhibitBe New Orleans, where he created site-specific installations Hanging In the Balance and Storm Clouds. In 2015, the DVCAI and NPN/VAN awarded Ratliff with an artist residency in Miami, FL. He returned home committed to his studio practice, where he co-founded Level Artist Collective with four friend and fellow artist.
Carl Joe Williams is a Co-Founding Artist of Blights Out. Raised and based in New Orleans, Carl Joe Williams has long had an interest in and a fascination for New Orleans’ vernacular architecture, which often makes its way into his paintings.
Blights Out Artists
(in alpha order)
Amy Bryan is an artist from New Orleans, LA born in 1976. Her mediums are printmaking, digital imaging, drawing, painting, and assemblage. Amy Bryan has an interest in memories, history, culture, and place. She’s interested in collaging images, the use of multiples, and materials such as paper and fabric. She says, “My artwork is inspired by love and spirituality. I have been inspired by the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans since I was a teenager. I was attracted to the beauty of the architecture and the mysterious haunting feeling of it. As a whole, people and places that stand out to me inspire me."
She has participated in exhibitions locally, nationally, and internationally. Her work is in public and private collections. She has a Master of Fine Arts in printmaking from Howard University and a Bachelor of Arts in studio art from Xavier University of LA.
Hannah Chalew is a New Orleans artist raised in the city and returned home after graduating from Brandeis University with a BFA. Chalew is one of the founders of T-Lot, a studio and installation space for emerging artists in the St. Claude Arts District.
She works from direct observation to bring the experience of place to the viewer. Her work examines the post-Katrina landscape emptied of human life. These spaces speak for their inhabitants as a statement about the inextricable link between culture and nature, our past and inevitably our future.
Her work has been featured in Satellite Magazine, Designtripper, NOLA Defender, and The Times-Picayune. Hannah has exhibited work at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, T-Lot and other venues. She was 2010 No Dead Artists Jury Winner as well. Her work was recently on view in the NOLANOW exhibition, curated by Amy Mackie, at the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans.
Lee Deigaard's series of nocturnal photographs of animals Unbidden won the Clarence John Laughlin Award and was featured in a solo show at The Ogden Museum of Southern Art in 2014. Her immersive video and sculptural installations have been shown at the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans, the Acadiana Center for the Arts, and the Alexandria Museum of Art. As a Southern Constellations Fellow and artist-in-residence at Elsewhere in Greensboro, NC, she invited horses to explore a museum housed in a former thrift store. Her work has appeared in National Geographic's blog PROOF, Lenscratch, and Oxford American.
Julia Elizabeth Evans is co-director of Weenta Productions. Her spirit is affable and open. She believes her role as co-director is just as much about supporting others as it is about working the camera. Julia has worked directly with Academy Award winning filmmakers on various documentary projects. She has published both written and visual content in various international journalism outlets, including NPR, NYTimes, Boston Globe, and Glopalpost.com. She is the recipient of the 2015-2016 New Orleans Video Access Center (NOVAC) Joshua Short Scholarship. In collaboration with NOVAC, her feature-length documentary, Corner stores & Cornerstones, is set to premiere in Fall 2016.
Weenta Girmay is owner and co-director at Weenta Productions. She has a sincere love for people and their stories, which is what inspires her to keep making new media. She started Weenta Productions after 7 years as a freelance multimedia journalist, with work featured in major outlets such as NPR and The Nation. When she’s not producing video, she also creates audio stories for WWOZ, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Station. Her personal work can be found at weenta.com.
Virginia Hanusik is interested in the relationship between architecture, landscape, and identity. Born and raised in the Hudson River Valley region of New York, she began photographing with an historical sense of place. Her photographs depict the cultural influence of the built environment and have been featured in publications such as Places Journal, Fast Company, Newsweek, The Atlantic, and Oxford American. She received her B.A. from Bard College and currently lives and works in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Ernest Joshua Littles is a native of New Orleans, and was raised in its Lower Ninth Ward community. In 2014, he earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Visual Arts from Dillard University. As an undergraduate Littles began interning at Antenna Gallery with Jerald White and later went on to become a member of the organization.
Dan Tague’s studio practice was turned upside down after losing everything in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. After the levies breached, he found himself with friends on the top floor and roof of a building undergoing renovations. He witnessed everything he owned being destroyed by polluted water that engulfed the city he called home. His growing outrage toward the government’s response to the people of New Orleans led him to create a series of artworks challenging the meaning of our monetary system and the promises of democracy.
Dan Tague lives in New Orleans with his wife, Ashley, and their three dogs, Marcel, Chicken, and Larry. His art has been exhibited in museums and galleries internationally. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and has collaborated with The Spirit Initiative and Help USA. His work is in prominent collections including the Whitney Museum of Art, Weisman Foundation, and New Orleans Museum of Art. He received an MFA in Studio Arts from the University of New Orleans in 2000 and has since been an artist in residence at Johnson Atelier Technical Institute and School of Sculpture and the La Napoule Art Foundation in France.
John Isiah Walton was born in 1985 in New Orleans, where he currently lives and works as a fine artist. Walton is a member of the artist collective The Front, and is also a founding member of Level Artist Collective, which includes artists Ana Hernandez, Horton Humble, Rontherin Ratliff, and Carl Joe Williams.
Walton often uses humor and irony to provide "stinging social commentary". His recent solo exhibition at the Front entitled Rodeo featured portraits of bulls and bull fighters at the Angola State Prison Rodeo. His previous series, Zulu, was a series of paintings of American political figures in blackface like the Krewe of Zulu. His painting style is fast, loose brush strokes.
His work has been exhibited in New York City, Austin, Texas, Los Angeles, North Carolina and Tokyo. His notable exhibitions include the solo exhibitions Beaucoup Humidity in 2015 curated by Diego Cortez and God Willing in 2016 both at P339 Gallery in New York. He has been included in group shows at the New Orleans Museum of Art and "Grown Ass Kids" at the Front.